Service Dogs: Helping Some Veterans Cope with PTSD

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Service Dogs for PTSD

Photo via Pixabay by Skeeze

Soldiers returning from deployment sometimes bring the trauma of war home with them. Being injured themselves or witnessing others injured or dying, can have lasting physical and emotional effects on our military men and women. Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can surface immediately or take years to appear. These symptoms can include sleeplessness, recurring nightmares or memories, anger, fear, feeling numb, and suicidal thoughts. These symptoms can be alleviated with medications and/or by the use of service dogs.

Service Dogs for Veterans and What They Do

A service dog is one that is trained to specifically perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual disability. Service dogs meant specifically for PTSD therapy, provide many benefits to their veteran companions. These dogs provide emotional support, unconditional love, and a partner that has the veteran’s back. Panic attacks, flashbacks, depression, and stress subside. Many vets get better sleep knowing their dog is standing watch through the night for them.

Taking an active role in training and giving the dog positive feedback can help the veteran have purpose and goals. They see that they are having a positive impact and receiving unconditional love from the dog in return. The dog can also be the veteran’s reason to move around, get some exercise, or leave the house.

Bonding with the dogs has been found to have biological effects elevating levels of oxytocin, which helps overcome paranoia, improves trust, and other important social abilities to alleviate some PTSD symptoms. When the dogs help vets feel safe and protected, anxiety levels, feelings of depression, drug use, violence, and suicidal thoughts decrease.

Service dogs can also reduce medical and psychiatric costs when used as an alternative to drug therapy. Reducing bills will reduce stress on the veteran and their family.

Impact of Service Dogs on Veterans with PTSD

These dogs offer non-stop unconditional love. When military personnel return to civilian life adjustment can be difficult, and sometimes the skills that they have acquired in the field are not the skills they can put toward a career back home. A dog will show them the same respect no matter what job they do, and that can be extremely comforting.

Service dogs can also foster a feeling of safety and trust in veterans. After going through particular experiences overseas, it may be difficult for veterans to trust their environment and feel completely safe. Dogs can offer a stable routine, be vigilant through the night (so the vet doesn’t have to), and be ever faithful and trustworthy.

Veterans sometimes have difficulty with relationships after departing the military because they are accustomed to giving and receiving orders. Dogs respond well to authority and don’t mind taking orders. The flip side is that by taking care of the dog’s needs, the veteran can also get used to recognizing and responding to the needs of others.

Service Dogs are also protective. They will be by the veteran’s side whenever needed and have their back like their buddies did on the battlefield. They will provide security and calm without judgment. The dog will not mind if you’ve had a bad day and be there to help heal emotional wounds. For this reason, PTSD service dogs are also a great help to veterans suffering from substance abuse disorders.

In an article by Mark Thompson called “What a Dog Can Do for PTSD”, an Army vet named Luis Carlos Montalvan was quoted as saying, “But for all veterans, I think, the companionship and unwavering support mean the most. So many veterans are isolated and withdrawn when they return. A dog is a way to reconnect, without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.

Check out the Department of Veteran’s Affairs for information on the VA’s service dog program by CLICKING HERE.

Here are a few of the dozens of programs to help if you are a vet or know one who could benefit from a service dog:

PawsandStripes.org

OperationWeAreHere.com

PawsForVeterans.com

SoldiersBestFriend.org

TenderLovingCanines.org

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Veterans with PTSD: Why a Dog May be Your Best Friend

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Veterans with PTSD:  Relief may be around the corner.  Practically, every day one sees Veterans with PTSD coming out from under the dark clouds of depression with the support of a canine companion.

Service Dogs and Veterans

I certainly am not qualified to speculate on the benefits that a service dog provides Veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental impairments, but there does appear to be genuine love and understanding between a Veteran and his or her companion dog.

Sadly, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) does not provide “service dogs” to Veterans suffering from PTSD.  In fact, the VA only provides limited benefits to those service members with an approved VA disability:

VA will pay for veterinary care and the equipment (e.g. harness and/or backpack) required for optimal use of the dog. Veterinary care includes prescribed medications, office visits for medical procedures, and dental procedures where the dog is sedated (one sedated dental procedure will be covered annually). Vaccinations should be current when the dog is provided to the Veteran through an accredited agency. Subsequent vaccinations will be covered by VA. Prescribed food will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Veterinary care does not include over-the-counter medications, food, treats and non-sedated dental care. Flea and tick medications are considered over-the-counter and are the responsibility of the Veteran along with over-the-counter dental care products (bones, dental treats, etc.). Grooming, boarding and other routine expenses are not covered.

The VA differentiates between a “guide dog” (for Veterans that are blind) and a “service dog” as follows:  to help those with severe to profound hearing loss by alerting the individual to a variety of sounds or someone with a physical impairment that substantially limits mobility  by assisting in the performance of a wide variety of tasks depending on need and training (e.g. opening doors, retrieving, etc.).

Currently, the VA does not provide Service Dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD because “there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms.”  Studies are now underway to evaluate the benefits of service dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, but these results will not be available for several years.

Nevertheless, many Veterans can attest to the healing benefits of having a service dog regardless of the VA’s propensity to study the issue further.  Found below is a video of a Navy Seal who explains the emotional well-being of his service dog.

While the VA continues its research, many privately-funded organization have sprung up across the United States to provide trained service dogs to many Veterans seeking canine support to help them cope with PTSD and TBI. Found below is a list of just a few of these organizations which provide Veterans with canine support that is still under consideration by the VA.

Train a Dog Save a Warrior:  SFTT’s Rescue Coalition Partner providing service dogs to Veterans dealing with the silent wounds of war.

Paws for Veterans:  A privately-funded program which rescues dogs from shelters and then trains both the Veterans and their service dogs.

Vets Adopt Pets:  A list of several programs across the United States to help pair Veterans with “support” pets.

This Able Veteran:   A service dog program designed to help Veterans cope with PTSD and recover their lives.

Canine Angels USA:  Another program which rescues dogs for animal shelters and trains them to work with Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

As the VA continues to “study” the self-evident benefits of a service dog, many well-intentioned private organizations across the United States are already providing much needed training and support for Veterans seeking a canine companion.

In many cases, these organizations are rescuing dogs for animal shelters to help provide these Veterans with a healing companion.

Thanks to the steadfast dedication of many wonderful people, the lives of countless Veterans have been improved.  On behalf of our Veterans, SFTT thanks you for your continued kindness and generosity!

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Veterans Affairs: Hope on the Way for Those Suffering from PTSD and TBI?

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With the expected change in the administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), hope could well be on its way to provide more effective and timely treatment for the tens of thousands of Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the VA doesn’t seem to have a handle on treating Veterans with serious brain injury.  One hopes that the “new” VA will be more open to alternative therapy provided in the private sector, rather than current dogmatic approaches that have produced few – if any – positive approaches to treating PTSD and TBI. Maj. Ben Richards explains in far more detail below:

I just finished watching an exceptional documentary on PBS by Bob Woodruff entitled Medical Medicine Beyond the Battlefield.   The video, which may be watched below if you can spare 58 minutes – details some incredible medical breakthroughs in helping Veterans recover their lives after they have lost limbs in combat.  Truly miraculous!

Approximately 36 minutes into the video, Mr. Woodruff focuses on how the VA is dealing with brain injury.  Shortly thereafter, he chronicles the issues faced by Elana Duffy, an intelligence Sgt. First Class who suffered traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq (39 minutes).

It is evident that the VA is not making as much progress in treating neurological disorders as they are on other medical rehabilitation fronts.

While concerted efforts are being made to understand and treat PTSD traumatic brain injury, it appears that “progress” within the VA has been impeded by dogmatic positions maintained by Dr. David Cifu and others. In effect, Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI are given few treatment alternatives outside the narrowly defined treatment programs so vigorously defended by VA administrators.

SFTT has long held the view – based on feedback from many Veterans – that the VA is not in a position to provide the necessary care and treatment to truly help Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.   This is a huge problem for Veterans and their families and one needs to “think outside the box” or the confines of VA orthodoxy to embrace new treatment alternatives.

It is terribly sad that the VA has become a political ping pong ball to the chagrin of many Veterans. The release of the Commission on Care report recommending 18 major reforms within the VA triggered an immediate backlash from employees and lobbyists who felt threatened  by the findings.

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Like others, “I was appalled by the outburst of J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, who threatened VA Secretary with ‘physical violence.’Cox was ‘prepared to whoop Bob McDonald’s a – -,’ he said. ‘He’s going to start treating us as the labor partner … or we will whoop his a – -, I promise you.'”

Against this particularly toxic background, it is difficult to know whether a new VA Secretary will be able to implement the reforms outlined in the Commission on Care report.

Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown to Head Department of Veterans Affairs?

According to recent information, former U.S. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts is apparently a front-runner for the post of Secretary of Department of Veterans Affairs in the new Trump administration.

As reported in the Boston Herald and several other respected media sources, Scott Brown is

 . . . under consideration for the Cabinet post of Veterans Affairs secretary — said he would create a 24-7 manned hotline for suicidal soldiers, take back bonuses and raises awarded to incompetent VA staffers and outsource PTSD and other serious mental health cases to private professionals.

“People are hurting and they need some real help,” Brown said last night, hours after he spoke with President-elect Donald Trump. “There are some great angels working in the VA right now and they need a morale boost.”

If true, this could very well accelerate outsourcing the treatment of Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI to private healthcare providers.   Sen. Brown is quoted as saying, “The VA’s trying to do it all — they can’t. We need to outsource that and get those people help right away.”

There is no way of knowing whether Sen. Brown will be offered the job of VA Secretary or will be confirmed to this “cabinet-level” position, but implementing the steps recommended by the Commission on Care would be a major step forward in getting Veterans the help they deserve.

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